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The Offensive Cross

By Rev. David Blunt

This Editorial was published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 12, October-December 1998.

I T is a solemn fact testified to by the beloved disciple that Jesus "came unto His own" but "they received him not" (John 1:11). Many instances are recorded in Scripture when men did not welcome the presence of the Saviour of the world – because they "knew him not." Indeed they were offended at Him.


None of these accounts is more poignant than those of our Lord's visits to Nazareth, the town of His upbringing and doubtless of many happy memories. Early in His public ministry He went to the synagogue there and reading from the prophecy of Isaiah proclaimed Himself the long-awaited Redeemer; to a self-righteous congregation He preached the doctrine of sovereign election out of the Old Testament – and in their fury they chased Him out of the city and tried to hurl Him to His death from off the top of the hill (Luke 4:16-30).

Within the year He returned. No violence was done to Him on this occasion but the stubborn rejection of His teaching remained. His modest entrance into the world and humble station in life were a stumbling-block to those who nonetheless had to acknowledge His wisdom and mighty works (Matt. 13:54-58). He never came again; He would be honoured elsewhere instead. Where Jesus is not desired He seldom stays; privileges misused soon become privileges removed.


It was the proclamation of His own death – the manner and meaning of it – that brought the contradiction of sinners against Himself to a pitch. When Jesus spoke of the necessity of eating His flesh and drinking His blood in order to gain eternal life many of His professed followers turned back (John 6:53, 61, 66): the religious builders had Him crucified in weakness, but in the hidden purpose of the Most High the true church was to be founded upon His dying and rising again. Calvary is ever salvation to lost and undone sinners – but it is shame to others. As with Jesus so it was in the experience of Paul: "And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased." (Gal. 5:11).

"The blessed cross of Jesus an offence to men? Surely not!" we might wish to think. "The holy Lamb of God, dying for the sin of the world, a stumbling-block? It cannot be!" But it is. Oh, it is! Paul found it so, when he resolved in his ministry to know nothing at all but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. This sort of preaching brought him much trouble. Be sure, it will do the same for faithful ministers today.


The scandal of Calvary takes different forms. The world of course thinks that it has no need of a Saviour, because it has done nothing worthy of the name 'sin' – an outmoded concept which belongs to a past and lesser age. In truth the death of Christ is an awkward fact that does not fit easily among the dogmas of an unbelieving world: the essential goodness of humankind, the worth of self and the pursuit of pleasure. The cross is weakness, foolishness. A forlorn figure hanging upon a tree, forsaken by all. Imagine that having any meaning in the modern world!

Because men will not have the cross transform them, they feel that they must transform the cross. To unconverted eyes it appears an ugly thing, a horrible thing; so the world takes the rough original, cleans it up and fashions it into a more pleasant object – an ornament, a piece of religious jewellery it can use to soothe its collective conscience when occasion demands. The rugged doctrines of the cross – strict divine justice, penal substitution, blood atonement for sin, a free justification – these are all smoothed off too: the crucifixion becomes a mere moral example, a sentimental tale to encourage us to be just a little more charitable to our fellow men. The world will wear the cross of Christ around its neck but will not admit the Christ of the cross into its heart. The world really hates the cross.


The church in her various branches clearly admires the cross. Its symbol adorns her buildings and institutions everywhere. She celebrates it in many of her religious observances, hymns and writings. "What kindness of God!" she says, "What great love!" She is persuaded that the death of Jesus is important, really very important, so important in fact that we could hardly be saved without it. How good of God to do so much! But then we must do our part. We must feel sorry for our sins, open our hearts to him, decide for him. God has a wonderful plan for our lives but only if we will fulfil the necessary conditions. After all is said and done, Jesus cannot save us without our faith, our repentance, our obedience, our.....


NO! Listen. Why was Paul persecuted by the Jews for his preaching? Because he spoke against works, against self-righteousness in all its subtle forms, against the damnable PLUS which says that God's salvation is conditioned on something in the sinner or something done by the sinner. Hear him: "If ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.....[you are] a debtor to do the whole law.....Christ is become of no effect unto you.....ye are fallen from grace." (Gal. 5:2, 3, 4). Come to the cross you certainly must but the only thing which you may bring with you is the sin from which you need to be saved.


We all need to repent daily of this works-religion which is native to our hearts and, we fear, more prevalent in evangelical churches than we will allow; while wearing a cloak looking very like gospel-religion many secretly give the glory of salvation to – themselves! But saving faith and repentance are the Lord's to give (Eph. 2:8; Acts 5:31) ; so Scripture says, "Ask, and it shall be given you" (Matt. 7:7). You are like the man with the withered hand, powerless and yet Jesus said to him, "Stretch forth thine hand"! Wonder of wonders, we read that "he stretched it forth" (Matt. 12:13). So Jesus calls sinners to lay hold on Himself, and, praise God, His gospel is found to be "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Rom. 1:16).

The true cross is offensive to so many because it will not give place to man and his sinful pride: in this way it acts like a trap to ensnare and expose to view those whose religion is in fact of a very different sort to that of the Bible.


The Lord's own people really love the cross. The cross only. It is all their boast. They say with Paul, "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." (Gal. 6:14). They love it for the mighty power it exerts upon themselves, for the matchless grace that it brings into their lives. They love it not because they are baptised or catechised but because they are new creatures – God has made them so.

With enlightened eyes believers now see the corruption of their own nature and their total inability in spiritual things; with new minds they understand with all the godly that salvation is of the Lord's grace alone; with new hearts they adore the One who is their only, perfect, righteousness and who says, "blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me." (Matt. 11:6). They have looked at Christ once lifted up from the earth and their souls now live. In life and death their bold confession is: "not having mine own righteousness.....but.....the righteousness which is of God by faith" (Phil. 3:9). In glory their song forever will be: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain" (Rev. 5:12).

Be careful that you do not stumble before this holy cross.